Uncovering hidden secrets

Cragside steward Katherine Foggon cleans a bust of Lord Armstrong. Ref: JCNG cragside tv 1
Cragside steward Katherine Foggon cleans a bust of Lord Armstrong. Ref: JCNG cragside tv 1

This autumn, ITV is showcasing six National Trust places, including Cragside and the Farne Islands in Northumberland, in a 20-part series which reveals just what goes on behind the scenes to keep our special places open.

Broadcast journalist Michael Buerk will rediscover some of Britain’s best-loved landscapes, uncover hidden secrets and meet the people behind the scenes of the country’s largest conservation charity. In each episode he will also try his hand at a new skill.

Feature on Atlantic grey seals on the Farne Islands in Northumberland.'David Steel, Head Ranger for National Trust on the Farne Islands

Feature on Atlantic grey seals on the Farne Islands in Northumberland.'David Steel, Head Ranger for National Trust on the Farne Islands

Staff, volunteers and animals are all set to become the stars of the show with everyday occurrences captured on film from puffin counting on the Farne Islands to an insight into the Victorians at Cragside.

One of those featured during the Cragside segments, where filming has taken place over the last nine months, is house steward Katherine Foggon.

“They have been with us about once a month, working with all the different departments at the property – foresters, rangers, house, outside teams.

“It’s been really interesting seeing how they work, but they have been interested in seeing how we work and how the National Trust runs these huge properties, keeps them going and keeps them interesting for all the visitors that come and see us.”

Conservation officer Andrew Sawyer has worked at the property for a quarter-of-a-century and spoke about aspects of social history for the series.

“We did pieces about how the servants lived in comparison to how the family lived,” he said. “So we looked at a servant’s bedroom and a family bedroom.

“I have been involved a little bit with Michael Buerk; we did jelly making, it was very jolly really with one of our fantastic volunteers.

“We also did a bit about Victorian gardeners and the status of the the head gardener and the others – little interesting snippets of life at Cragside in the Victorian era.”

But while Andrew described the film shoots as ‘great fun’, he is not so keen on watching the show.

“I will probably watch it without the sound on, because I hate my voice,” he said. “But it’s fantastic for the property and brilliant for the National Trust.”

Describing the estate near Rothbury, presenter Michael Buerk said: “A Victorian palace in the most extraordinary spectacular setting. Built by Lord Armstrong, who built most of the British (and also Japanese) navy’s ships – one of the great inventors, manufacturers and entrepreneurs of that, or any other age. He made one of the biggest fortunes in the world, and spent so much of it on this amazing house.”

Home to the most exciting seabird colony in England, visitors to the Farne Islands can see 23 nestings species, including 37,000 pairs of puffins, Arctic terns and guillemots. There is also a large grey seal colony with more than 1,000 pups born every autumn.

It’s been a special and busy year on the Farne Islands with head ranger David Steel and his eight-strong team performing the five-yearly puffin count.

“The puffin count is the only way we can truly measure how our colonies are doing,” he said.

“With the extremes of weather and rain especially last year, we have been really concerned about population numbers falling.

“Viewers will see the outcome of the count; and the coming and goings of our birds - particularly during the nesting season – as well as witnessing the challenges all island inhabitants’ face with the extremes of weather.”

Michael said: “I love grand houses, but the Farne Islands are special. With all the birds in the breeding season, they’re the closest thing England has to the Galápagos.

“To be there during the terns’ breeding season was hair-raising in almost every way and the closest you can get to nature this side of the African bush.”

Inside the National Trust started airing on Sunday and is to be broadcast weekly on Sundays at 12.25pm.